'Crying for Justin Bieber' and Negotiating Affective Fan Performance

Curator's Note

The clip on the left features 3-year-old Cody, known for tearfully explaining her love for tween pop star Justin Bieber on YouTube, meeting Bieber in person on Jimmy Kimmel Live. While it's easy to watch this clip and think "isn't that adorable, kids say the darned-ist things," or conversely, "isn't that terrifying, girlhood is under attack," this clip brings up much more complicated questions about performing, policing, and negotiating the relationships between celebrities and fans.

In addition to aspects of community, cultural capital, and agency, the affective nature of fandom is also important to consider (just ask those sobbing during the LOST series finale). But the performance and display of such emotion in public is often the site of pathologizing certain fandoms, especially with young female fans, a la Beatlemania and "Bieber Fever." The particular instance in this clip negotiates those pathologies in part because Cody's extreme youth displaces the threat of any active female sexuality (a key element in the moral panic and othering of Beatlemania, Twilight fandom, and Bieber Fever) or physical harm. Cody's exclamation that she's going to marry Justin Bieber is in part dismissed as childhood fantasy, not as a worrisome break with reality or dangerous sign of stalker behavior.

On the other hand, dismissing Cody's affections as merely fantasy ignores the complexities of social power in childhood play. Rehearsing young, white, middle-class heteronormativity as early as 3 years old is clearly an issue here. But Cody’s declaration that “it’s okay to cry about Justin Bieber sometimes” is a desperate attempt to negotiate her mother’s policing of her emotions, an allegory for resisting the discursive othering of female fans. The way Kimmel (and others) frame Cody’s tearful love for Justin Bieber as funny and cute, however, implies that such performative fandom is acceptable for children, but not adults. This clip, then, at once challenges and upholds limitations for the affective sensibility of fandom.


 Fantastic post, Lindsay -- absolutely spot on analysis of this clip (and the general cult of viewership around the original clip of the girl crying for Bieber, of which I admit I was fully a a part).   I'm interested in what we can make of the fact that part of the reason the clip is funny is that this particular young fan is "desiring up" - wanting boys, cultural objects, etc. that are deemed above her maturity level, which is generally considered a.) normal, b.) humorous, and c.) slightly pathologized, but not a true danger.

On the other hand, "desiring down" - wanting *boys*, cultural objects (Twilight), etc. that are below a grown women's maturity level is not only 'sad', but wrong and weird.  A grown woman performing the same desire and despair as the little girl would be read as pitiful.  

Thanks for bringing this up, Annie - you make a great point. This interaction between "desiring up" and "desiring down" make young stars like Justin Bieber a particularly complex part of popular culture, especially as advertisers/marketers/media companies continue to seek franchises that can appeal not only to young audiences, but to "Generation E" (generation everyone), as this recent Ad Age article contends. It brings up some interesting questions for me, perhaps in a somewhat different tangent to the video above - do some franchises/stars work better at intergenerational appeals? How and why? 

To put it another way, how do discourses of fandom operate differently for Harry Potter, Transformers, and X-Men as opposed to Twilight and Hannah Montana? What might be different when we then move to discussing fandom/fans of stars and celebrities themselves? Why do we (most people over the age of 16) love to hate young tween stars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus? And what can the competing discourses surrounding children, fandom, and celebrity tell us about how cultural power operates in contemporary society? 


 To both Annie and Lindsay: I totally agree with both of you that fangirling up is permitted in a way that fangirling down isn't. Remember the <a href="http://roflrazzi.com/2010/04/04/celebrity-pictures-twilight-moms-cheering-cops/">Twilight mom--If this was [sic] men cheering for 17 year old girls</a> image we discussed a few weeks ago? There's something about women desiring--and especially when turning (younger) men into lust objects--that unsettles and needs to be controlled.

Ironically, when I was working on popslash (with mostly thirtysomething professional women actively performing their fannishness for boybands) that it suddenly became apparent that it was an active&aggressive (if not aggressively sexual) embracing of an identity rejected when much younger. (In other words, many of us were women who didn't fangirl the appropriate teen groups AS teens, because we were too cool/intellectual/precocious/geeky/... at the time, and it was only a decade plus later that we purposefully embraced that squeey fan side).

Not really wholly related to this but in a way it might be? The way we do and do not allow women to desire and what it means to fangirl when you've become too old/too sexual/too something :)



I think it's certainly related, Kristina! I'm so fascinated by your explanation of women actively and aggressively fangirling teen/20-something boybands as something related to the fact that they didn't fangirl appropriate teen groups as teens. This is something I've been a lot about, actually - when do parts of popular culture that most love to hate become cool to like? I'm interested in the way that some people love (or perform love for) bands/stars like the Jonas Bros as an ironic move, as if to say that "I know the typical bourgeois line is to hate the Jonas Bros for being corporately authored, profit-driven, vacuous tween crap, but I can still like them and enjoy them, and doing so in some ways signals that I'm resisting those cultural limitations on what we can and cannot desire." It actually seems to operate similarly to rejecting those same bands/stars when we were younger (I did the same) - fangirling other things when we were actually teens was an active attempt to reject those cultural limitations of what we were supposed to like (at least for me).

 Yes. that exactly!!! While there's a certain ironic distancing going on, at the end there's also a real enjoyment in the unironic fangirling. I think part of it is that growing up might have allowed us to be uncool in ways that we couldn't allow ourselves as teens. But at the same time, there's also a strange nonconformity yet again by liking things we yet again aren't supposed to/allowed to like.

Or, to put it differently, we gained our creds by liking the cool bands, so we now *can* like the uncool ones. And also, we've realized that the entire system of subcultural creds is kinda...uncool :)

Not to mention all the issues of gendering involved in boybands!!! 

I can't help but think of Cody's desire for Bieber being contained in a discourse of innocence and naivete as a parallel to the news about the illegal photographs of Miley Cyrus's naked parts being taken down on the internet (with the possibility that Perez Hilton could be in serious trouble as a result) under the same provisions of innocence and containment. It's just amazing to me that the issue cannot open itself to the various contexts that frame who Cyrus is and wants to be: sexualized, mature, and cognizant of her own desires. That the only debatable item is her age (she's 17 and thus it is against the law to post pictures of minors online) certainly undermines Cyrus's own agency in this situation.

Which, again, is why this piece is so spot-on about the containment of desire and articulating what types of aged bodies are allowed to participate in tis desire/innocence structure.


Yes, the latest Miley incident is a great tie in here. In some ways it's another attempt to contain female agency and sexuality. In other ways, it's also playing out fears and anxieties about celebrity culture in general and it's threat to (perceived) dominant values. I mean, Perez Hilton possibly being charged with a crime for this literally sets up the allegory of celeb/gossip culture ruining/exploiting the purity and innocence of America.

Terrific post, Lindsay! I'm struck by how all of the clips so far have been both so full of affect and so unsettling: there's something striking about this IMR week's prolonged focus on visuals of female affect, agency, and negotiation; it's worth noting that the word uncanny has already come up twice, and I felt a similar discomfort watching this video.

For this post specifically, building on the excellent comments above, I'm struck by the spectre of adolescent female desire that's raised and avoided: as you say, Cody's intense emotional desire is framed as cute and funny because of her age, but her performance of love for Justin Bieber certainly invokes images of her tween and teen years soon to come. And then there's the sister, whom the camera allows in the frame but doesn't settle upon, the one whose desire for Bieber is both more expected and yet more threatening. Female adolescent (and adult) desire is all over this clip, despite its seeming (intentional) absence.



Looking at this from a developmental perspective, you have to wonder what is going on in this child's life that has enabled this sort of behavior at such an early age, as well as what impact this occurance will have on the rest of her psychological growth. This is a time in her life (three years old!), when she should still be learning how to play with others as opposed to next to them, and is beginning to develop and adhere to gender identity on her own, as opposed to what Mom/Dad told her to do. It's disturbing (to me) to think that we've packaged and delivered rampant sexuality to such a degree that a three year old is able to pick it up and run with it.

The way that we (majority of society) look at this as 'cute' and 'funny' shows little respect or concern for the fact that her behavior is being validated and rewarded. As Louisa Stein mentions, we're seeing previews of her future when such behaviors will no longer be 'cute'. I wonder if little Cody will end up becoming one of those 'desiring up' adolescents who frequently date well outside of their age range, and then a 'desiring-down' woman.

Lindsay - this was a great choice of clip and discussion! I think it played out it both ways. On one hand, audiences could just laugh at a tot who was - whether a "real" fan or just misguided - attributing her immature emotions to fandom. On the other hand, this was used to say and reveal some things about fandom itself: that it was misguided, that it could be learned, and that even a three year old could pick up the script. Of course fandom is not just about picking up a script (and this is where discourse theory has its limits). It is entering into a field of emotional 'knowing' and a deep state of conviction - often described by fans themselves as "loving". This "loving" makes fandom different from cultural capital, and it can be fun to explore how the two interact in specific cases. I can see how that issues of gender and 'desiring up' are relevant there.

The video also plays upon a stereotype of Henry Jenkins has noted: that fandom is so often represented as implying emotional immaturity. In that sense the punchline of the video is that Cody is speaking for all fans in her immature emotionalism. Cody represents us fans and is a supposed object lesson in the nature of fandom as immaturity.

Although Cody clearly saw Justin as an object of longing, I'm not quite as concerned as Natalie as I don't think Cody's behaviour was sexualized. What was interesting here was just how casual Cody was with Justin when they did meet. In fact her relative lack of hysteria - compared to Beatlemania etc - was refreshing. I though she at first seemed quite at home with him, as a relatively equal human being, seeing him more like a long lost brother than a star - even though Kimmel was madly emphasizing their power relation and hoping she would go crazy. 

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